Games different, final results the same

Chris Lempesis

Coming into its weekend series with Alaska-Anchorage, things hadn’t been going very well for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team ” on or off the ice.

On the ice, the Gophers had earned just one win in their last four games. Off the ice, the team was embroiled in a mini-controversy stemming from a series of KMSP-TV reports regarding underage drinking by members of the team.

Add these things together and it’s hard to imagine another college hockey team in the country that needed a pair of wins more than No. 12 Minnesota.

And while it’s hard to imagine two more different performances, a pair of wins is exactly what the Gophers got this weekend.

Spurred on by a stirring third-period comeback Saturday, Minnesota pulled out a 4-3 win over the Seawolves at Mariucci Arena to earn the two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association sweep. The Gophers dominated Friday night on their way to a 9-0 victory.

“There’s no question, it was a long week for our kids,” coach Don Lucia said. “But I think they were able to put the focus on the hockey and that was good for them and I like the way we responded overall for the weekend.”

Minnesota’s response Saturday was especially impressive.

After going ahead 1-0 just 55 seconds into the game, the Gophers (5-3-2, 5-2-1 WCHA) reverted back to the disappointing form they’ve shown for a big part of the season thus far.

This was reflected on the scoreboard as Alaska-Anchorage (2-7-1, 0-5-1 WCHA) evened it up later in the first. The Seawolves then scored twice in the second and held a 3-1 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.

“We came out really flat the first and second period and we had a nice chat in between the second and third there,” sophomore forward Evan Kaufmann said. “So, we kind of screwed our heads on again and got ready for the last 20.”

Minnesota looked like a completely different team early in the third, but with 10:30 to go, still trailed by two.

Then the floodgates opened.

Sophomore forward Mike Howe and junior forward Ryan Potulny scored consecutive goals, both on rebounds ” less than one minute apart ” with Potulny’s goal tying the score at 3 with 8:47 to play.

It was none other than Kaufmann, one of the players who probably had an especially tough week (he was featured prominently on the Fox 9 news underage drinking report), who netted the game-winner with 2:25 to go.

Kaufmann got the rebound on a shot by freshman forward Blake Wheeler and fired it back on net. While Alaska-Anchorage goaltender Nathan Lawson got a piece of it, he didn’t get enough as the puck trickled past him into the net.

For the period, the Gophers outshot the Seawolves 14-2.

“We dominated the last 10 minutes and snuck away with the win and that was an important win for us,” Lucia said.

“Boy it would’ve been really disappointing to lose this game tonight.”

Said Howe: “We didn’t come out of the gates how we expected. But it’s a 60 minute game and we had a very good third period and we should be happy about it and we are.”

The comeback Saturday was a far cry from the series opener, when Minnesota was in complete control from start to finish.

The Gophers were keyed by a five-goal second period and a three for six performance on the power play.

In addition, Friday’s win was extra special for a couple of Gophers who hit milestones in the contest.

Junior goalie Kellen Briggs, winner of both games in the series, broke the school shutout record as the blanking was the ninth of his career. Briggs had been tied with Adam Hauser, who played for Minnesota from 1998-2002.

Also, senior forward Gino Guyer recorded the 100th point of his career, becoming the 74th Gopher to do so.

But, as nice as all the personal records might be, it’s the fact that the Gophers were able to add two wins to their team record at an already crucial juncture in the young season that matters most to the team.

“We haven’t been playing up to our capabilities and we realized that and coaching staff realized that,” Howe said. “We just concentrated, like I said, coming to practice every day and working hard as we possibly could and things worked out for us this weekend.”